Student Development Theory
It is important to remember that individual students vary in their pace of development. As an Associate Advisor, you may get a very young freshman (15 yrs. old), who will have different needs and expectations than an older student.
There are always certain issues that arise during each year of college life, but here a few things to note about the first-year experience.
The Freshman Year
Going off to college can be a frightening experience for many students, as they are entering a new living environment. Some of your advisees may project an image that they know everything there is to know, and may have difficulty admitting that they are not in control, so your guidance and advice is important. For some freshmen this may be the first time away from home, family, and friends. They will be meeting people, who are different than they are, with different viewpoints and interests and may struggle with this adjustment.
Some of the issues they face may include:
- Transition: The first four to eight weeks of the first semester can be the most critical. They form friendships that set a pattern for future interactions, and may change or adapt their behavior to meet the expectations of their new peer group. Upper-class students have a lot of influence on freshmen during this time, so advise wisely.
- Tolerance: First-year students tend to view things as right or wrong. Those who have not learned to share, compromise, and accept other people’s views will experience interpersonal conflicts. The living group is one of the best places for them to explore these issues.
- Values Exploration: Students enter college with values most similar to those of their parents. Meeting people with different values and beliefs force students to articulate why they believe what they do. This can lead to a value system crisis, where the student cannot understand the difference between what they believe and values expressed by others. This is the process for adapting their personal value system.
- Reaction to Freedom: Students react to their newfound independence by testing the boundaries through trial and experimentation. Frequently, this behavior is disruptive to the living group or personally destructive. As a traditional associate advisor or RAA, you can help as you observe students who may be experiencing problems with freedom include decline in grades, poor time management, procrastination, and excessive socializing.
- Academic Adjustment: Adjusting to the new demands for studying, more intense competition, and enhanced need for critical thinking skills can place a lot of pressure on students. This can evoke different stress signs, such as depression, panic, excessive drinking, and disruptive behavior.
- Problems: Personal problems may crop up, such as roommate conflicts, trouble with exams, illness, etc. and something as simple as spending their first birthday alone can particularly difficult times. They are experiencing so many things the first time that your ability to listen and help them work though their issues is invaluable.